Author: Francisco X. Stork
YA Lit | 336 Pages | Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
“The Memory of Light” is the moving and personal tale of Vicky Cruz, a teen who attempted suicide and is recovering in the psychiatric ward of an Austin, TX hospital. When the story opens, we meet Vicky and Dr. Desai, the woman who will help Vicky acquire the tools to live with and cope with mental illness. She soon meets other teens in the hospital who are dealing with different forms of mental illness and who will inadvertently provide the emotional support Vicky needs to begin to see value in her life again.
The cast is mostly Hispanic, with a variety of minor characters from different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. I live in Austin, TX as well so it makes perfect sense to have such a diverse cast in one of the most beautifully diverse states and cities in America. The characters themselves are interesting yet ordinarily unique in their own way and complement each other well. E.M. (who has trouble controlling his anger) and Gabriel (who is too ashamed initially to reveal his mental illness to his peers) are both funny boys whose difficult lives at home are exacerbated by their mental illness. Mona, who has manic depressive disorder, is a young mother who is shrewd and passionate but her mental illness has separated her from the person she loves most. This is ultimately Vicky’s story, however, and it is truly one that proved to be emotionally satisfying.
A few flaws prevent this novel from reaching its full potential. At times it felt like the characters were simple mouthpieces for the author to relay the messages and lessons he wanted his readers to take away. Don’t misunderstand, these messages are powerful and teens should hear what Stork has to say, but personally, I like my characters to be real and authentic humans first and messengers second.
I also felt some of the depictions of mental health treatment were slightly unrealistic. In particular, a trip out the country for “therapeutic” reasons was hard for me to believe, given the variety of mental health issues the teens had and how difficult it would be to get approval for something like that. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this trip was just added to further the plot. A few other minor details bothered me, but not enough to detract from the overall narrative.
And I must concede, that despite its flaws, “The Memory of Light” is a shining example of intelligent and insightful Young Adult literature. This novel will be enlightening and educational for those who do not understand people who suffer from mental illness. In Vicky, Stork offers an unidealized depiction of clinical depression and her journey to recovery was wonderfully executed in a way that was both honest yet optimistic.
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